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Remembering Brooklyn poet Wynne Henry

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Wynne Henry always had dreams of moving back to Brooklyn.

The Flatbush-bred poet and writer would often talk about it on the phone with her friend Helene Ruiz, founder of the Urban Individualists Collective. They would daydream about moving into adjacent apartment buildings so that they could send food over to each other over the clothewsire and laugh at all the chicken heads below them.

Unfortunately, Henry, who friends often called “poetry dancer,” never got to live that dream. She died in December of last year in California, after a battle with cancer. But her friends ended up giving her the next best thing with a proper memorial in her hometown.

Photos of the late Wynne Henry displayed at her memorial service.

On Friday, several of Henry’s friends gathered in the backyard of an AirBnb in Little Haiti to give the Brooklyn girl a deserving send-off. Throughout her life, Henry worked as a creative writing teacher both in New York City and on the west coast, where she moved several years ago to take care of her mother. Several small plastic fold up tables were set up in the back, each decorated with old photos of Henry and copies of her poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up” that friends would read from.

“She was quiet, simple, practical, and made every effort to do what was good for herself and those around her. She was a woman of her word, and I felt she deserved so much more than life gave her in return,” Kimberly Allen, 54, said. They had been friends for 12 years, originally meeting in the Los Angeles poetry scene.

In everyday life, Wynne was a quiet and introspective person. She wasn’t necessarily shy, but was reserved and often didn’t want to worry friends with her own problems. But in her writing, her voice soared.

“She seemed to really see people. When she brought her poetry and some of the things that she expressed, it let you know that she paid attention to everyday life and the people that she would run across,” Allen continued.

Henry’s poems delved into an array of topics: the scourge of racism, the simple pleasure and disappointments of love and meditations on daily life. One poem, which started as a writing prompt asking poets to define why they write, demonstrates some of her artistic drive.

“I want my poetry to help you find your voice/one word at a time/and when you finally run out of things to say/I want my poetry to speak for you,” a poem entitled ‘I want my poetry to’ reads, from her collection “7 Blocks… and TWO Stories up.

Wynne Henry’s poetry collection “7 Blocks… and TWO stories up”

And on Friday afternoon, Henry’s words spoke for the friend who months later still struggled to find the words to properly mourn her.

Karen Abercrombie remembers many things about her friend of over 20 years, but one of the first that came to mind was her love of cats. After all, Henry is the reason why Abercrombie has two herself.

One Thanksgiving in North Carolina, Abercrombie took Henry to the local animal shelter. They came back each day just to look at one specific cat to adopt. He ended up getting adopted by another family. So, naturally, Abercrombie ended up adopting two other cats instead: one name Langston, after Langston Hughes (one of Henry’s favorite writers); and the other Finn.

Henry didn’t own a cat herself, Abercrombie explained, and speculated that it was because of the disappearance of her childhood cat. But that didn’t stop her from showering her friends’ pets with homemade crochets or picking up their favorite food when she saw it in a supermarket.

“Everytime I look at my cats – or things we shared together, like our love for African fabrics – I think of her,” Abercrombie said tearfully.

William Washington, a fellow poet, said that Henry had shaped him in many ways.

“So what I remember most about her is that besides great poetry, was the love affair we had that was never a love affair,” Washington said explaining their complicated relationship. Washington explained that while they had deep feelings for each other, Henry often kept him at arms length after her first battle with breast cancer.

“I loved her. And I like to think she loved me,” Washington said, to audible agreements from other memorial attendees.

Washington described his poetry before meeting Henry as mad and angry, which often contained harsh language. But Henry taught him that he could use his words to talk about more than just what enraged him.

“You wasn’t born angry like this. So don’t be afraid to write about love. And even if I was writing about my broken heart, she said write about this therapy. She taught me how to use soothing calming words instead of the words I was using,” Washington said.

While most of the attendants knew Henry in different ways, either in passing through art and poetry shows or decades long friendships, Luis Hidalgo, who never met Henry and attended the memorial with his wife,was equally moved by the ceremony.

“You know, as I get older, I think about my legacy. And to see what a legacy this woman left, the way she touched you. And the way she touched me through the words that you spoke here. What a wonderful thing,” Hidalgo said. “You know, words that were written down 2,000, 3,000 years ago, hundreds of years ago, that still echo today. Words that have taken men into battle. Words, putting men and women in love. And we still read it all these years later. And somehow this lady fits that mold.

Hidalgo continued to say that in reality Henry isn’t gone.

“Because in the Bible, it says if more than two to speak my word, I am present. Well, she’s present then.”

New Brooklyn Heights Library opens

By Matthew Fischetti

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The second largest library in Brooklyn opened its doors to the general public this past Wednesday.

The new Brooklyn Heights library, located at 286 Cadman Plaza West—the same as its former facility—now features over 26,000 square feet of space, floor-to-ceiling windows, a teen’s library, a children’s area, a sunlit reading room, and plenty of books to put your nose into.

“Now, as the second-largest library after the Brooklyn Public Library’s central branch, the opening of the Brooklyn Heights Library will serve as a cultural hub for all of Brooklyn and an invaluable local resource to thousands of nearby residents,” Councilwoman Crystal Hudson said. “We must continue to expand the resources available to our libraries and cultural institutions and make access to a quality library the norm, not the exception. Libraries are true indicators of the health and safety of our communities and a critical component to the social fabric of our City.”

In 2015, the City Council approved the plan to replace the previous library with a new building, made by private developer Hudson Companies Inc. The library sits at the base of the new 38-story building that houses 134 condominiums.

The original library was built in 1962 and had $9 million worth of unfunded needs prior to the renovation, according to the Brooklyn Public Library’s website. The Brooklyn Public Library also states that the original building was poorly designed to the point that more than 50 percent of its space was unavailable for public use.

The redevelopment project was largely funded by selling off the city-owned property for $52 million. Of the funding, $40 million was spent on repairs and improvements at branches across the system, while $12 million was allocated toward the interior of the Brooklyn Heights Library.

The developer also paid for the core and shell of the new library, a 9,000 square-foot STEAM lab to be operated by the NYC Department of Education, and rent for an interim library throughout the construction period. In addition, the development included 114 affordable apartments located at 909 Atlantic Avenue and 1043 Fulton Street.

“I’m so thrilled to celebrate the reopening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library! This was my childhood library and the stunning, state-of-the-art facility is going to be an essential community hub for the Brooklyn Heights community for generations to come,” Councilman Lincoln Restler said.

“Libraries are one of our greatest democratic institutions, and so I’m thrilled to celebrate the opening of the new Brooklyn Heights Library. This 21st century library will be a welcome asset and inspiration to the community for generations to come,” Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon said. “Here, children, teens, and adults can explore free programs, build community, read and learn. The Brooklyn Public Library has long been a critical cultural and educational anchor for the borough’s residents.”

The new branch will feature bas-reliefs, a kind of carving where the illustration is raised from the base, by Clemente Spampino – whose artwork originally adorned the exterior of the 1962 building. Starting this summer, the branch will also have a new installation “Something Borrowed, Something New,” by Brooklyn-based artist Jean Shin, to mark the 125th anniversary of Brooklyn Public Library. The installation honors the library’s roots with an upside-down tree to represent the shared history with the library and generations of Brooklynites.

Shootings down, major crime up, cops say

Mayor Eric Adams credited the anti-gun crime unit he brought back earlier this year for a downturn in gun crime at a press conference in Brooklyn on Monday.

Recent NYPD stats show that shootings across the city were down 6.5 percent compared to this time last year. However, NYPD data also shows that major crimes—a category that includes seven different kinds of felonies including rape and grand larceny—-were up a whopping 38 percent from last year. Murder was the only individual major crime category that showed a citywide decrease of nine percent.

The anti-gun crime unit, dubbed the “Neighborhood Safety Team”, is a revamped version of the city’s plainclothes unit, which was disbanded due in 2020 to its involvement in shootings across the city. According to a 2018 report from the investigative journalism outlet, The Intercept, while plainclothes officers represented only six percent of the force they were responsible for 31 percent of all fatal shooting incidents.

Mayor Adams made good on his campaign promise of reinstating the unit back in January.

Adams stated that the teams will avoid previous mistakes by requiring officers to turn on their body cameras when interacting with the public and wearing windbreakers that make officers more identifiable as cops.

The Neighborhood Safety Teams have seized 105 firearms and effected 115 gun arrests since their start in March, according to NYPD.

“If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part,” Adams said at the press conference. “If we do the work to get it to the grand jury, to get that indictment, to make that arrest — then the other team must do their part.”

Mayor Adams placed blame on Albany lawmakers for not passing stronger restriction to bail reform.

“We would have liked to receive more, like the dangerousness standard. That’s so important. You have one of these guys that come in front of you or someone is arrested nine times. I think the judge should make the determination, this person presents an imminent threat to the city,” Adams said.

However, a report from progressive comptroller Brad Lander published last March, found that bail reform was not responsible for the increase in crime.

Adams noted that he will be pushing for the dangerous standard to be included in the next legislative session.

2022 Election Profile: Assembly Candidate Johanna Carmona

Johanna Carmona, a Sunnyside native and former Hispanic community liaison for outgoing Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, announced her bid for the New York State Assembly’s 37th District.

Nolan, whose district whose district encompasses the Hunters Point, Sunnyside, Woodside, Maspeth, and Ridgewood communities in Western Queens, has held the position since 1984. Following the announcement of her retirement, four local candidates have opted to throw their hats into the ring.

Carmona, 32, is a lawyer who previously worked special victims for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. She has also been endorsed by Nolan, who has represented the area for decades and felt she is the most qualified to succeed her up in Albany.

The main reason Carmona is running for the Assembly is to help give her community substantive representation at the state level.

“The neighborhood’s growing, but at the same time, it still has the same values that I feel are there from when I was little,” Carmona said in an interview. She emphasized that the tight-knit community of Sunnyside has been instrumental in her own life, like when neighbors helped her Dad with everything from babysitters to cooking a decent meal after Carmona’s mother suffered a stroke.

Carmona’s three top issues she’d like to tackle up in Albany are public safety, education, and affordable housing.

“The rent increases are going to be a concern because it also affects someone like myself,” Carmona said about the Rent Guidelines Board potential increases, adding that she’s been a lifelong tenant. Carmona supports Good Cause Eviction, a bill that would strengthen tenant rights with certain clarification to the language of the bill, saying that some terms such as what is deemed ‘satisfactory’ to the court are too grey and needs more clear definitions.

While Carmona is generally supportive of bail reform, she says the legislation could have been written more robustly before passing. The former special victims prosecutor said that the bill lacked key provisions and that her experience as a lawyer will suit her to write effective legislation.

“And then there was also another one where they didn’t include which was obscene sexual acts performed by a child, why wasn’t that included? My biggest thing is that I’ve dealt with victims, and my biggest proponent is to make sure victims are protected. And, of course, it was amended and included that, but you know, people have to understand that the wording has to be careful when something that passes so quickly,” Carmona said.

Carmona plans to laser in on lowering class size, funding for after-school programs, and expanding college access programs.

“Making sure we have solid college access programs, I think will be very beneficial because it’s a nice way coming from a family of very low income to segue into a better job,” Carmona said, specifically highlighting how an NYU program helped her in her own life.

While Carmona has her main issues, she also would like to focus on otter topics like climate policy. Specifically, she’s looking at ways to revitalize Newton Creek, such as using the waterway as a source of renewable energy and utilizing discretionary funds to expedite the clean-up timetable.

Carmona has been hitting the district one door at a time, even giving her personal cell phone number to potential voters to make sure she is accessible to the community.

“The majority of people just want a better quality of life,” Carmona said about her conversations with voters across the district. “It comes down to people protecting their families, being able to afford their homes, and being able to just go down the street and say I can come back home safe. And honestly, it’s just that’s what’s been resonating throughout the whole district.”

Carmona will be facing fellow candidates Juan Ardilla, Jim Magee, and Brent O’Leary in the Tuesday, June 28 primary.

NYC goes ‘BIG’ for Biggie’s 50th Birthday

Biggie Smalls always repped Brooklyn to the fullest. And now his city is doing the same for him.

This past Saturday would have been the 50th birthday for the rapper, whose real name was Christopher Wallace, a Clinton Hill (then called Bed-Stuy) native who rose to prominence with searing lyrics and flows of his rags-to-riches story. He was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1997 and no one has been charged for the murder.

Starting at midnight on Saturday, fans waited for hours at subway stations to try and get a limited edition Biggie Smalls MetroCard. The Empire State Building was lit red and white in honor of the rapper. And Lincoln Center will be holding a tribute in June.

For many in New York, and especially Brooklyn, Biggie is as iconic as a Yankees fitted or a dollar slice of pizza. He’s long been a true staple of the city and a shining symbol for Brooklyn grit. But for many years, this level of institutional recognition was all but a dream.

LeRoy McCarthy with Congressman Jamaal Bowman and Senator Chuck Schumer inside the recreation room at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. Better known as the “birthplace of Hip-Hop,” this was where DJ Kool Herc performed to a crowd on August 11, 1973 (Credit: LeRoy McCarthy)

LeRoy McCarthy started a petition in 2013 to get the street corner on St. James Place between Fulton Street and Gates Avenue named Christopher Wallace Way.

“When I started this effort independently, I was saying that there was not recognition for hip hop as there is for rock and roll, or jazz or country. Hip hop is an indigenous and American creation – a composite of different music and art forms to create what we now know as hip hop,” McCarthy said in an interview.

That year, members of Brooklyn’s Community Board 2 reportedly rejected a proposal to rename a street corner after him due to his drug-dealing history, misogynist language used in his lyrics, and for being too overweight.

“And as a matter of fact, his mom [Wallace’s Mother] asked me not to do it, because the sentiment was so bad. And it was so distasteful the way that they spoke of her son, in these publications and in the community,” former Councilman Robert Cornegy said in an interview. Cornegy grew up in the same Brooklyn building as the late rapper, promising Wallace’s mother that he would someday honor her son’s legacy.

While explaining the contributions Biggie made to the community, Cornegy recalled a community board member interrupting his speech to read Biggie’s lyrics, in an attempt to sway people against voting for a street renaming.

“She [Wallace’s mother] didn’t want to do it, quite frankly. We backed off the first time, because she couldn’t take hearing the way that people felt about her son, which didn’t represent what 99 percent of the community and the culture understood the significance, but that 1 percent was very loud, who were vehemently against the street and the park naming,” Cornegy said.

Crispus Attucks Park was dedicated to Biggie in 2017, and in 2019 the street corner that he grew up on was renamed Christopher Wallace Way.

“It puts a little bit of a smirk on my face when I know how people initially felt and have we not stayed diligent with making sure that the world was aware of his contributions. I don’t know what would have happened. So there’s a whole bunch of people, not just myself on the ground, who really, really hammered this home consistently about the contributions,” Cornegy said.

Cornegy also emphasized the work that has been done by the Christopher Wallace Memorial Foundation. While B.I.G used to stand for “Business instead of Game”, the foundation, which helps provide learning materials and fixies libraries, has transformed the definition to be “Books Instead of Guns”.

As an avid Biggie fan, McCarthy waited over an hour and a half to try and get one of the coveted 50,000 limited edition metro cards on Saturday morning. He wasn’t able to snag one. But as luck would have it, McCarthy met Barron Claiborne, the photographer who took the iconic photo of Biggie used on the MetroCard, at the block party he co-organized in Brooklyn.

McCarthy swapped one of his Christopher Wallace Way signs for a MetroCard autographed by Claiborne.

McCarthy says that he has been speaking with Speaker Adrienne Adams to get the NYC council to recognize August as Hip Hop recognition month as well as members of the Los Angeles City Council to pass a similar resolution. He was part of efforts that got the month recognized by the federal government, celebrating the genesis of hip hop by DJ Kool Herc on August 11, 1973 in the Bronx.

“But what I’m trying to do is have the intersection of St. James and folk history to be somewhat of an Abbey Road of hip hop – like a Graceland type thing or 56 Hope Road where Bob Marley’s house is. So it’s like an attraction, a part of Americana. Honoring hip hop is one thing, but this would also be a landmark for hip hop.”

School bus idling crackdown

Attorney General Letitia James announced a new lawsuit on Thursday against three bus companies that have allegedly violated idling laws, predominantly in low-income neighborhoods in Kings County for years.

State laws prevent idling for more than five minutes; city laws bar idling for more than three minutes and one minute in a school zone. Both laws have certain exceptions.

The lawsuit alleges that the three companies – Jofaz Transportation, Inc., 3rd Avenue Transit, Inc., and Y&M Transit Corp., Inc. – constantly violated City and State idling laws from 2019 to as recently as April of this year. James’ office is seeking monetary penalties and a court order to force the companies to comply with the laws.

The three companies, collectively known as the Jofaz Companies, are owned by Joseph Fazzia and his family. In total, they operate 614 buses throughout the city and three bus yards in Brooklyn, per the AG’s office.

A representative for Jofaz Transportation could not be reached as of press time.

The AG previously made an agreement with Jofaz Companies to train staff and comply with city and state laws. The lawsuit alleges that the violations continued well after the meeting, citing data captured by Geotab, a software management tool that the Department of Education installed on the buses.

“The data shows that a significant amount of the Jofaz Companies’ unlawful idling occurs at its three bus yards, two of which are located in or adjacent to communities that are low-income and/or where the residents are primarily people of color (environmental justice communities),” the lawsuit states. “Such communities already suffer from disproportionately high levels of air pollution and a correspondingly disproportionately high number of emergency room visits and hospital admissions for asthma and other respiratory illnesses.”

The Attorney General also found that in 2019, 30 different Jofaz school buses idled for at least 10 minutes each for a total of 285 different times over 65 days near P.S. K140, the same location where James hosted the press conference announcing the suit. Bed Stuy, the neighborhood surrounding P.S. K140 is in the 92nd percentile in the country for levels of diesel particulate matter and has childhood asthma rates in the 70th to 80th percentile, according to the AG’s office.

I’m also grateful for all of the advocates have coming out to support the lawsuit against illegal idling,” Chelsea Miller, a Bed-Stuy high school student with asthma, said. “I’m glad that students who have asthma are being cared for, and that we as a whole are fighting against this and hoping for better air quality.”

Brooklyn debate league raises $1.3M after viral post

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

This quote is how coach K.M. DiColandrea would begin almost every debate team practice at Frederick Douglass Academy. He would urge his students to figure out their ‘why’.

At 15, Jonathan Conyers couldn’t answer the question.

Conyers, now 27, has figured out the answer. When he was selected to tell his life story with Humans of New York, he opted to talk about his teacher, nicknamed DiCo, instead. And that’s when over $1.2 million started rolling in to support the Brooklyn Debate League.

Through 12 different posts on the account, Conyers shared his life story, overcoming ‘hows’ like drug-addicted parents, getting evicted numerous times, and seeing his friend locked up at 14.

Conyers enrolled in Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem after avoiding charges for breaking into a home in middle school. The principal made him enroll in an extracurricular program. After sitting silently in the back of the debate room, Conyers finally participated when the topic of drug addiction was brought up.

“But one day they were discussing drug addiction, which is a topic I know a lot about,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post. “So I stood up and shared my story. Afterwards Ms. DiCo asked me to stay behind. Mainly she just wanted to make sure I was OK. She was like: ‘Do you need anything?’ But after that, she was like: ‘You should join debate.’”

In hindsight, Conyers wishes he paid more attention to DiColandrea.

“She was white, from Manhattan. She’d gone to Yale. I just assumed she didn’t have any problems,” Dico said in the Humans of New York post.

But that wasn’t the case. DiColandrea revealed to his students that he was in the process of transitioning.

“They waited until I was ready to tell them,” DiColandrea said in an interview, explaining that some students had suspicions when Dico would bring his “friend” to school events. “And then it was just unconditional love.”

“DiCo could have told me he was a dinosaur, and I’d be like: ‘That’s cool. Just stay DiCo,’” Conyers said in the Humans of New York Post.

DiColandrea and Conyers knew the biggest tournament of the year was a real shot when the topic was announced: “Should juvenile offenders be tried as adults?”

While Conyers recalled feeling out of place at the tournament, he found his home on the dais. Conyers recalled in the post that there was nothing special about his opening speeches, but on cross-examination he destroyed his opponents asking his predominantly white and affluent opponents whether they should be the person making this argument if they don’t know anyone.

“Jonathan needs to stick to the facts. His life story gives him an unfair advantage,” Conyers recalled a judge saying, in the Humans of New York post.

DiCo taught all his students to be calm and collected. But that’s when DiColandrea snapped.

“You will not do this to him. These rich kids have access to every resource. But you’re penalizing Jonathan because his life is f***ed up?” Conyers recalled Dico saying, in the Humans of New York Post.

Ever since that tournament, DiColandrea has been working hard to break down those barriers in debate. A few years later, DiColandrea founded the Brooklyn Debate League – a group that seeks to eliminate the gatekeeping in debate by expanding programs and teams to urban areas.

“But it’s not always just about personal anecdotes, it’s like, it’s a more fundamental, personal confidence,” DiColandrea said about teaching students a more personal and unconventional debate style. “It’s helping students understand at a really visceral and deep level, that regardless of what neighborhood they live in, or how much money their parents make, or what school they go to, or what color their skin is, or who they’re attracted to, or how they identify. Regardless of any of those identity markers, they belong in a space where the only weapon is words because their words matter”

“And that’s priceless. Knowing your voice matters,” Conyers said. “Especially as a young Black man, presentation and how you articulate yourself are important.”

And although it’s priceless, it still costs.

DiColandrea started the GoFundMe to cover the $6,000 he personally invested to cover payroll for the small mostly volunteer staff. It was covered in 10 minutes. After two days, it already hit a million. Now over a week later, it has raised over $1.3 million.

“It feels like a mix of the day I got married, all of my birthdays combined, and the day that my student won Harvard,” DiColandrea said about the newfound attention and funds. “It feels like everybody in the world is just reaching out with this abundant outpouring of love and kindness.”

The Brooklyn Debate league operated on a small and scrappy budget, reaching around 250 people on their mailing list and about 100 students coming to tournaments.

“That’s chump change now. We can change our whole mission now,” DiColandrea said with excitement in his voice. DiCo said that he’s looking to reach every person, school and program he can throughout Brooklyn and other urban areas.

“You don’t need to look any further than the New York State Championship that was held two weekends ago, right? There were over 60 schools there. And there were five of them that were public schools in New York City. And three of those were specialized schools. And we are the biggest school district In the country, we have, what, 1.1 million students? They weren’t in those spaces. And they’re not in the speech and debate circuit,” DiColandrea said, explaining the still urgent need for something like Brooklyn Debate League.

While Conyers credits a lot of how he got by in life due to his coach’s help, DiColandrea disagrees.

“I don’t know how to express it. You know, that kind of selflessness is what’s always made him so special; he’s a very humble person,” DiCo said. “And he wanted me to have this moment. And man, am I having it?”

Conyers now says he has figured out his why.

“I learned that giving back and being selfless can change lives. And what he [DiColandrea] did to me has allowed me to help so many people,” Conyers said. He has been on the front lines of COVID working as a respiratory therapist at NYU. He also started a home for children who had been orphaned during the pandemic and owns juvenile rehabilitation centers in Virginia to give kids like him the resources and opportunities he didn’t.

For DiColandrea, it’s a wish come true.

DiColandrea originally gravitated to the quote when he was 16. His high school was only a few blocks from the World Trade Center on September 11. IN the weeks after, she asked for book recommendations for helping to understand and process her trauma. The teacher recommended Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning.

“As someone who experienced this firsthand, we then had an obligation to speak up about it, to make sure that it wasn’t forgotten to make sure that people understood what happened.”

And that became DiColandrea’s reason. Helping his own students to process their trauma and make sure they know that their voice matters.

“We’re talking about racism. We’re talking about,people who are undocumented. We’re talking about people who come from low income communities. There are traumas that kids are carrying from those communities as well. I want them to feel empowered to speak up about what is meaningful to them, what is their lived experience. To teach them about what matters and for them to feel empowered to share that on whatever level they want. That might be just in front of a friend or a classmate or it might be on a national stage at the Speech and Debate championship,” DiColandrea said.

“But that voice belongs to them. And that power belongs to them to use it, to speak up about what they think matters.”

Even though Coyners said he never had a good answer to what his “why” was – he always knew a bit of the answer.

“All I knew was that I wanted to be like Ms. DiCo,” Conyers said in the Humans of New York post.

“I just want the world to know that there is so much more to Jonathon Coyners, there’s so much more to DiCo,” Conyers said. “We pray that we can continue to share our story and continue to share the things we have been through in much more detail, and we hope the world is supportive.”

City votes to raise rents for thousands

The Rent Guidelines Board, the city regulatory agency that decides the prices of rent-stabilized units, preliminarily voted to increase rents in their largest single-year jump in nearly 10 years. The final vote will be held on June 21.

The RGB voted to increase rents by 2-4 percent for one-year leases and 4-6 percent for two-year leases in a 5-4 vote on Thursday. The last time the RGB raised rents by over 3 percent was in 2014; that year one-year leases increased by 4 percent while two-year leases increased by 7.75 percent.

A 2017 report from the Housing and Preservation Department found that Brooklyn comprises nearly 30 percent of the city’s rent-stabilized units; meaning that up to nearly 275,000 units in Kings County could be facing increases.

The jump in rents marks a shift from the freezes and modest increases the RGB pursued under previous Mayor DeBlasio’s more tenant-friendly board. Mayor Adams appointed a landlord lawyer and a self-proclaimed rent control skeptic to the board last month, as City Limits reported.

The RGB is comprised of nine different members who are all appointed by the mayor. Two seats are designated for tenant interests, two others to represent owners, while the other five are supposed to represent the general public.

“Inflation is hurting property owners as the cost of providing safe, clean, affordable housing continues to rise. Our analysis of the data is that an increase of rents it keeps up with inflation and rising property taxes is necessary to protect the housing stock,” said Robert Ehlrich, one of the owner representatives. Ehrlich continued to cite RGB research that found that 1/3 of rent-stabilized buildings are spending 70 percent of operating income on costs.

Sheila Garcia, one of the tenant representatives called for rent freezes and rent rollbacks on apartments.

“This is what the language of the statute reads. action is necessary to prevent exactions of unjust, unreasonable, and oppressive rents and rental agreements. And to forestall profiteering speculation and other disruptive practices tending to produce threats to the public health, safety, and general welfare. It goes on to say that this is because many, many owners, and I quote, ‘were demanding exorbitant and unconscionable rent increases.’ These are the underpinnings of why the RGB exists,” said Adán Soltren, the other tenant member of the board.

The New York City Council Progressive Caucus, which represents the majority of the council, denounced the rent hikes in a statement.

“We are at a loss as to why the recommended increases only have the landlord in mind, devised so as to maintain landlords’ net operating income at constant levels. Why should the maintenance of landlord income be privileged over the tenants’ ability to keep up with cost of living increases? Tenants have not experienced wage or salary increases of 9%, are paying more for everything due to inflation, and unemployment in the City remains nearly double the national average,” the statement reads.

The caucus also called for an immediate rent rollback to stave off evictions and that the board hold at least five public hearings, one in each borough. There are only two scheduled public hearings before the final vote in June, currently scheduled on the RGB website.

Mayor Adams, who is a landlord himself, refused to take a stance on the floated hike in order to maintain the independence on the board. Adams emphasized the responsibility of his appointed positions to strike the balance between landlords and what Mayor Adams described as small time renters.

The progressive caucus dismissed the notion of ‘mom-and-pop’ landlords being the primary provider of rent-regulated apartments. Their statement cited a 2017 analysis of Housing Preservation and Development data released by Justfix.nyc, a non profit organization that releases online tools for the housing movement. The report found that 91 percent of “mom-and-pop” landlords, defined as only owning one building by the Progressive Caucasus, do not own buildings with rent-regulated units and that 70 percent of landlords who own rent-regulated units own six or more buildings.

Queens firefighter killed in blaze

FDNY Firefighter Timothy Klein, 31, died in the line of duty while fighting a residential fire in Brooklyn that killed two people.

FDNY responded to the house fire at Avenue N in Canarsie five minutes after reports of smoke in the area. Conditions in the building worsened quickly before the Incident Commander ordered all members to evacuate the building, according to the FDNY Office of Public Information. Flames engulfed the building before part of the ceiling collapsed, injuring four firefighters inside. In total eight other firefighters, besides Klein, were injured in the three-alarm blaze.

“New York City has lost one of its bravest today – Firefighter Timothy Klein,” NYC Mayor Eric Adams said in a statement. “He lost his life doing the job we asked of him every day – bravely fighting to save others from fire. We pray for his family and his fellow Firefighters during this terribly painful time.”

Klein, a six-year FDNY veteran from Rockaway Beach, was first assigned to Ladder Company 170 in Canarsie after his graduation from the academy.

“The Department is heartbroken today at the loss of Firefighter Timothy Klein, who died risking his life to save others. His family has a rich history of service in the FDNY, and he bravely followed in their footsteps,” Acting Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said in a statement, “The hearts of the entire Department are with the Klein family and with the members of Engine Company 257 and Ladder Company 170.”

His hometown community in Queens was devastated upon hearing the news of Klein’s brave sacrifice.
“. Klein represented the very best of us, both on-duty and off-duty,” Councilwoman Ariola said in a statement about the Rockaway native. “He was a man who spent much of his free time involved with the Fight for Firefighters Foundation, which works to raise funds for and support firefighters in need, and he was well known throughout his neighborhood in Rockaway for his kind and giving nature. Klein gave his life doing what he loved – helping others – and for that he will always be remembered. He is a hero to everyone in this city, and while I cannot imagine the grief that the Klein family is experiencing right now, I want them to know that we will never forget Timmy’s sacrifice. The people of New York City are eternally grateful, and we are all forever in your debt.”

“It is always a tragedy for the City when we lose one of our brave first responders, but it really hits home when one of those people is a resident of your community,” New York State Senator Joseph Addabbo, Jr. said in a statement. “And that is the case with Firefighter Timothy Klein who died on Sunday after battling a blaze in Brooklyn. Klein grew up in Breezy Point and lived in Rockaway. Klein gave his life protecting others, and his bravery and memory will live on through his family and the people that he has saved. I want to send my condolences to Klein’s family and friends, as well as Ladder Co. 170, during this most difficult time, and I wish the other Firefighters injured in that fire a speedy recovery.”

Klein is survived by his retired FDNY Firefighter father Patrick Klein, his mother Diane and three sisters. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Members of the Canarsie firehouse paid tribute to the fallen hero on Monday, for his devotion and dedication to protecting those in the Brooklyn community.

Raised crosswalk proposal moves forward

A new raised crosswalk may be coming to an intersection near you.

Community Board 1 voted on Thursday to send a letter to study the proposal for a raised intersection on the corner of Olive Street and Maspeth Avenue. By having intersections that are flushed with the sidewalk, motorists are encouraged to slow speed and yield to pedestrians, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials.

Currently, there are only 17 raised intersections in the city as part of the New York City Department of Transportation’s in house raised crosswalk program, according to a DOT representative. The DOT also stated that they have installed another 13 raised intersections as part of other Capital projects.

Mayor Eric Adams has pledged to convert 100 dangerous intersections each year into raised intersections.

“DOT crews are working diligently to increase the number of raised crosswalk to meet the Mayor’s goal. We have identified a number of locations that will be built with our in-house forces, some of which are already in construction. DOT is also working with our partner agency Department of Design and Construction to identify additional locations for inclusion in the capital program,” a representative from DOT said in an email.

Paul Kelterborn, a transportation committee member of Brooklyn Community Board 1, believes that this Williamsburg intersection is a perfect candidate. Kelterborn, a member of Friends of Cooper Park, believes that this improvement is necessary in large part to the influx of new residents that will be coming to the community.

The Cooper Park Commons, a new building with 557 units of housing and 200 shelter beds, will be opening soon and Kelterborn believes the raised intersection is one of the policy proposals that will help accommodate the influx of thousands of new residents.

Kelterborn’s proposal advocated for the raised intersection to use different materials and colors to differentiate the intersection. In the interim, Kelterborn believes the DOT should add curb extensions for shorter crossing distances and increased visibility, install planters and granite blocks to keep cars out of pedestrian space, as well as remove parked cars that block visibility on street corners.

While the raised intersection is a new proposal, features such as curb bump-outs have been requested for over a decade. The first calls for safety improvement were proposed in 2008 when residents complained about the intersection’s “fast-moving and unchecked vehicle traffic.”
A pedestrian safety plan that advocated for bump-outs at the intersection was recommended in 2010 by the Cooper Park Neighborhood Association. The DOT made some minor traffic calming and signage changes in 2015 that critics say didn’t adequately address the street safety conditions in the area.

In 2019, the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation – a group of North Brooklyn community organizations – sent a letter to the DOT to express their concern about street safety.

But now, in 2022, over a dozen community organizations from the St. Nicks Alliance to elected politicians like Councilwoman Jennifer Gutierrez have endorsed the raised intersection as a solution for the Cooper Park area.

“I hope with a new administration that has a focus on street safety that we will be able to get something ambitious like this done. The DOT has been unresponsive in the past” Kelterborn said in an interview. “We need to be proactively making streets safer rather than reactive.”

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